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Royal Island Palace

Arriving at a hotel by water is always a fun experience. We pull up, after a complex day of travel, to an elegant pavilion at the edge of Lake Pichola in Udaipur, Rajasthan. This is actually the hotel"entrance" and the antique wooden  aunch whisks us to the serenity of the Taj Lake Palace Hotel—surely on of the most interesting luxury hotels in the world. We are escorted up the steps under a tassled sunshade by one of the Royal Butlers, a red clad turbaned fellow—this group are said to be descendants of the earlier palace retainers. As we reach the entrance, a shower of carnelian bougainvillea petals gently fall around us....kitschy, but fun. We are welcomed with a cool drink and towel, checked in efficiently, and shown to a deluxe room on the ground floor overlooking the Udaipur Palace on the near shore. The room is not huge...they maximized the number of rooms on the palace view side, but quite luxuriously appointed, with two couches, coffered ceiling, elegant bathroom and of course--killer view.

Maharana Jagat Singh II, 62nd ruler of Mewar completed his summer palace and gardens in 1746 on a 4-acre island in Lake Pichola called Jagniwas. By the mid 20th century the palace was falling apart, and in the early 60’s the then current ruler, Bhagwat Singh, decided to convert the summer palace to a hotel, engaging an American artist, Didi Contractor as designer. In 1972, Maharana Sing Mewar entered into a long-term lease with the Taj Group, which added a story and 75 rooms to the palace, renovated the balance and created one of the most unique luxury hotels in the world. Built of white and black marble with inlays of precious and colored stones, the palace abounds with columns, porticoes, balconies and carved stone.  The hotel comprises three restaurants, bar, infinity pool, exercise room, individual saunas poolside, gardens, ponds, fountains, viewing terraces and lovely views all around. There are flowered courtyards everywhere, mature trees, and various open air seating areas.

We arrive for dinner in the main everyday restaurant,Jharokha, and are shown a table in a turret jutting out from the corner of the dining room, with palace and city view. After a cold martini, we dig into rack of lamb, and deeply spiced goat and eggplant curry, accompanied by butter naan and tandoori roti. There is a huge selection of international and Indian dishes available. Jharokha is also the venue for breakfast buffet in the morning, and lunch if one is on property midday. The other two restaurants are the formal Indian, and a set meal European open-air dining venue on the top terrace called Bhairo.

We spend the next day relaxing by the pool and around the property. At 4 pm a local guide, which the hotel contracts—C.D. he says to call him—leads a 45-minute heritage walk around the property, describing the history of the palace, and the various sections of the island property. A bit past 5 pm, that melds into a sunset cruise around the lake, with a stop at Jag Mandir island just as the sun sinks below the peaks of the Aravalli Hills. Jag Mandir was built and added to in the 15-1600’s as a pleasure garden and day palace. It contains no temple, and no sleeping quarters. When we were last here a couple decades ago, there were not flotillas of boats circling, and almost no visitors to the island. Now it’s sort of a Disney experience. At that same time period, Udaipur might have had a handful of hotels, with three of significance...the Lake Palace, the Shiv Nivas in the Udaipur Palace, and the Oberoi Raj Villas on the far shore. We are told there are now hundreds, and several major monstrosities have managed to spring up on the near and far lakeside, despite absolute proscription against any new properties on the lake. When asked why, a shrug, and the words “too much corruption” are the answer.

A while later, we perch at the Amrit Sagar open-air bar and enjoy a Jodhpur Gin (distilled in London from 13 botanicals grown in Rajasthan) martini. There is a daily music and/or dance performance, and today there is a line of seated musicians, playing and two young dancers who alternate in performing various traditional dances, one ending up twirling like a dervish, long colorful skirt virtually straight out. We had reserved for dinner at eight in Neel Kamal, the formal Indian restaurant, and proceed in after the show. Our table has a front row view of the lily pond and courtyard, twinkly lit at night. The glassed-in kitchen features a row of wood fired clay pots, many bubbling merrily, ranges and griddles behind that, and a large clay tandoor overhung with a rack of long steel skewers for cooking tandoori dishes. A dozen white clad chefs dance to and fro preparing savory dishes. The menu is extensive, but we’re not too hungry, so we start with appetizers of fried okra and baby chicken legs stuffed with chicken and mushroom mince, roasted in the tandoor. The chicken is tasty if a bit dry, but the okra is fabulous....slivered vertically into shreds, tossed in flour and flash fried then salted. We’d seen a skewer of coconut and yoghurt prawns go into the tandoor, so order that with lachha parantha bread next. Delicious flavors, if the prawns were a bit mushy, and this form of parantha our favorite tandoor bread so far. We take a nightcap on the upper terrace, looking at the incredible view of the palace and city night lit, as a half-moon rises, and wonder why we didn’t plan longer in this delightful oasis.











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